Chris Thompson Interview: Frontman for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band Releases New CD
By Ray Shasho
Chris Thompson legendary Manfred Mann’s Earth Band lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, most recognized for singing the #1 hit/ classic rock radio anchor “Blinded by the Light” has released an extraordinary new CD entitled ‘Toys & Dishes.’ It’s Thompson’s first studio release in over ten years. Released by Esoteric Antenna/ Cherry Red Records …the album consists of pure driven rock & roll tempos while enchanted by powerful lyrical content. …I gave ‘Toys & Dishes’ by Chris Thompson (4) Stars. MANFRED MANN and drummer Mike Hugg founded the British Beat /R&B/ Psychedelic/ Pop/ Rock/ band Manfred Mann in 1962. Manfred Mann scored a huge hit with their cover “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”(#1 Billboard Hot 100 hit in 1964) and played an important role with the British Invasion. The first incarnation of Manfred Mann also spawned the hits “Sha- La- La” (#12 U.S. 1964), and “Pretty Flamingo” (#29 U.S. 1965) with Paul Jones as lead singer. Manfred Mann’s second incarnation began with singer Mike d’Abo. In 1968, the band generated a hit with the Bob Dylan penned “Mighty Quinn” (#10 U.S. Billboard Hot 100 hit).Over the years Manfred Mann featured such bandmates as Jack Bruce and Klaus Voormann. MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND was formed in 1971. The third incarnation began while lead singer and guitarist Chris Thompson took over the frontman duties in 1974. Thompson was born in Ashford, Kent, England but raised in New Zealand. After joining the band as their new lead singer,Manfred Mann’s Earth Band scored huge with their #1 hit song penned by Bruce Springsteen“Blinded by the Light” (1976). The tune remains a mainstay on commercial radio stations. The Manfred Mann’s Earth Band track also became the only #1 hit written by Bruce Springsteen. The Earth Band toured excessively and released many other popular recordings including another Springsteen composition entitled “Spirits in the Night,” “Davy’s on the Road Again,” “You Angel You,” and the Top 40 hit “Runner.” In 1979, Chris Thompson left Manfred Mann’s Earth Band but returned periodically through 1999. Thompson recorded seven solo albums including two albums with his band Night. Chris also scored Top 40 hits with “If You Remember Me,” “Hot Summer Night, ” and perhaps his biggest hit co-penned with Andy Qunta (Icehouse), Keth Reid (Procol Harum), and Maggie Ryder entitled “You’re the Voice” performed by John Farnham. Chris Thompson has collaborated with The Doobie Brothers, Roger Daltry, Alan Parsons, Ray Charles, Rita Coolidge, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Tyler, Isaac Hayes, Jan Hammer, Jennifer Rush, Heart,Mike Oldfield, Brian May, Bob Geldof, Mavis Staples, Paul Rodgers, Joe Walsh, Steve Lukather, Ian Gillan, and Starship to name just a few. In 2004, Chris toured with Jeff Wayne’s musical version of ‘The War of the Worlds’ while finishing in 2010 with 21 sold-out shows in England. In 2005, Thompson rejoined Manfred Mann for 22 sold-out shows in Germany with “Night of the Proms.” Chris Thompson also released an album featuring Big Band and Orchestra music entitled ‘Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me’ in 2012. I had the great pleasure of chatting with Chris Thompson about his incredible new album ‘Toys & Dishes’… the inception of “Blinded by the Light”… Manfred Mann’s Earth Band … touring… and much-much more. Here’s my recent interview with singer, songwriter, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, and legendary frontman for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band … CHRIS THOMPSON. Ray Shasho: Hi Chris, you’re in Belgium? Chris Thompson: “I am.” Ray Shasho: You’ve begun a tour that kicks off soon in Norway? Chris Thompson: “We’ve actually already done ten gigs in Germany at the end of last month. We’ve had a little bit of time off so I can do a radio promotions tour in Germany. I wouldn’t say we’re touring but we are doing four or five gigs in Norway beginning next weekend, then we go into festivals in the summertime. We’ll be touring properly in October-November. But these days, at least for me anyway, touring is not what is used to be. Thank goodness in a lot of ways. We used to tour America and never knew where we were going.” Ray Shasho: I’ve always admired the way musicians traveled and performed on lengthy worldwide tours. Chris Thompson: “Touring has never really been ridiculously hard. I never did up and down the motorway in a transit van, like most people, which is the hardest kind of touring. I think probably what we do now, the travelling is fairly difficult in Norway… it’s always been difficult in Norway. But I think in Germany we have it easy, our journeys aren’t too far. I would think the worst time was in America when we were taking a scheduled flight, which was the worst because you’d have to be up at ridiculous times to catch the scheduled flight to wherever you were going. You’d be in New York one day and then Atlanta the next day… then Los Angeles and Chicago … I think that was very-very difficult. But that was early before we were successful enough to organize our own tours.” Ray Shasho: Chris you grew up in New Zealand, what was the music scene like there? Chris Thompson: “The music scene was very isolated. There was a New Zealand Rolling Stones, the equivalent of, and a New Zealand Beatles as it were. The New Zealand well-known bands were Ray Columbus & the Invaders, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, and then there was a bunch of bands doing cover music which was what I did. I played in one band that did just Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago music. Now the New Zealand scene is quite active, there are a lot of bands doing their own material and has been for the last 10-15 years. But when I was growing up in New Zealand there was mostly cover bands unless you were lucky enough to be one of those successful bands. On the other hand, it was fantastic because I got to sing all sorts of different styles, songs, and paid my dues doing that, which was great really.” Ray Shasho: Who were some of the American music artists you grew up listening to… and was American music easily obtainable in New Zealand? Chris Thompson: “Your records were easily available. English musicians listened to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Kinks, Manfred Mann, and all the pop kind of stuff. I listened to an awful lot of jazz. The American bands that influenced me were Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago, and I listened to a lot of Edgar Winter, they were kind of jazz/rock/pop. I listened to a lot of blues obviously. I grew up doing a lot of Sam & Dave covers, James Brown, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and all of that. Then into the pop music genre and by the 70’s we were listening to the Eagles and The Doobie Brothers.” ‘TOYS & DISHES’ the new album Ray Shasho: Speaking of the blues … “Woe Is Me” was my favorite track on ‘Toys & Dishes’ the new album … I absolutely love that tune! Have you ever recorded an album devoted solely to the blues? Chris Thompson: “Thank you so much, no I have not. Whatever albums I have done, I’ve always done some kind of blues song. It was actually a couple of blues songs that we were going to do for this album and they just ended up not fitting in with everything else. “Woe Is Me” came from the very first song I wrote for the record and it got changed at the very-very last moment. On the album I made it a very big point to try to make a booklet that would be worth people reading and looking at. I took a page for each lyric and then wrote some comments about what was meaningful to me about the lyric, or I’d put some photographs related to the song in some way or another.” ““Woe Is Me” has got a little tag on the bottom which says, “If it wasn’t for Johnny Cash this song would be in D major (All laughing).” It was in D major all of the time until the very end and it didn’t sit correctly for me. I was listening to the radio and heard a Johnny Cash song and I went s**t, what would happen if I played it in a minor key. So I just started playing it and came right at the last moment. I’m glad you like it because it’s really kind of a sarcastic funny song. But a lot of people like it. I got a letter from a friend of mine who’s worked with Randy Newman, I sent him a copy of it and he said that was his favorite song.” Ray Shasho: The album is a monumental mix of music. Most of the tracks are upbeat but you’ve also recorded a beautiful acoustic composition entitled … “Dream Away Little Girl.” Chris Thompson: “When we were trying to put the album together, I was struggling where to put that ‘Dream Away’ song, so I just imagined that I was making an album that had two sides. So that’s why at the end of “Hey You” the track before ‘Dream Away’ has got a little record clink, just to kind of give people a hint that we were going to change over and listen to the other side, which is styled totally differently from the first side.” Ray Shasho: ‘Toys & Dishes’ spotlights intriguing lyrics as in “Million Dollar Wonder Hit” and “Millie Christine.” Chris Thompson: “We try to tell some stories and inject a little bit of humor into what we are doing, and “Million Dollar Wonder Hit” is definitely tongue-in-cheek, it’s for my life and a million other people’s lives. I sang a number one hit that I didn’t write and wrote a number one hit that I didn’t sing. So I’m hoping that I can write one and sing one but it’s difficult, it’s always been difficult, but nowadays it’s more difficult than anything, I’m glad that I’m not a young musician starting off anyway.” Ray Shasho: There are a lot of great musicians out there that will never have a legitimate opportunity to be showcased on mainstream radio. Radio station owners are more interested in playing an outrageous amount of commercials rather than providing the public with admirable entertainment. Chris Thompson: “Everybody plays the same thing! I just can’t believe it! If you go back to the 70’s when you used to open a Billboard magazine and see what somebody in New York was playing or in Chicago was playing … it would be nothing like what was being played in LA or in New York. I had a song called “If You Remember Me,” it was released and nobody really played it at all. Then one station in New York started playing it and became a top request. And because it was a top request and remained a top request on that station, in the end other stations thought … well gee, I guess we’ll play it. Everywhere they played it people began asking for it more. Eventually it got up to number four or something like that on the charts. I think it was six or seven months from the first entry until it got to the top and that just doesn’t happen anymore. A radio station won’t play a song and believe in it anymore… it’s very sad.” Ray Shasho: Chris, talk about the players in your touring band? Chris Thompson: “It’s the same band that I’ve had for thirteen years and they come from Norway. The guitarist is Mads Eriksen, bass player is Frank Hovland, the keyboard player is Gunnar Bjelland and he was the only one that played on the record. It’s so difficult to fly people in and out to do a record because you just have to get things done; otherwise it’s a waste of money. So I decided that I would take my time and do stuff at home. In the end I brought Gunnar over for a couple of days on several occasions. But it’s the same touring band I’ve had for thirteen years and they’re a fantastic band. We do a very good show and I’m very lucky. We’ve been having some fun playing the new songs; in fact just before you called I was sitting down listening to the recording and always thinking of ways to improve things and ways to make the music a little bit more alive instead of just playing the music from the record.” (Other band members include Szolt Meszaros and Steinar Krokstad on drums). Ray Shasho: Any chance of touring in the U.S. again soon? Chris Thompson: “I’d be there in a shot if somebody would ask us. I still have a couple of friends who deejays in Los Angeles …Joe Benson and Cynthia Fox and they always play Manfred Mann and talk about me which is very nice. I sent them the new record, so I’m hoping they will start the American Revolution by playing something new. But we’re going to try everything possible to get this record played in America. All the ABC radio news stations picked up the fact that I made a record and it was amazing. So it was very nice that people are still interested that I’m making new records. I think for America, “Dark Side” is the song for me, the one with the piano intro … for me that’s the song for America. But I’m really happy with this record and I’m going to really concentrate on it until the end of the year. We’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up, we’re playing in Kiel in the north of Germany at a great festival called Kieler Woche and we’re playing an hour of our music with an orchestra. So I’m really-really happy about that. So we’re going to keep plugging away and look for that breakthrough.” Ray Shasho: Manfred Mann continues to tour with Mick Rogers? Chris Thompson: “He’s always on the road …him and Mick… they’re the two originals of the Earth Band.” Ray Shasho: The band Manfred Mann has evolved into many diverse and commercially successful facets during their career. An early #1 hit with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (1964) and probably their most successful #1 hit single “Blinded by the Light” by a revitalized Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in which you were the lead singer and guitarist. How did the band select that Bruce Springsteen tune? Chris Thompson: “Manfred was given the album by a deejay in Philadelphia called Ed Sharkey, a fantastic man, he’s dead unfortunately, he knew Manfred and loved Manfred’s Earth Band and he just brought the record and gave it to him and said listen to this, I think you could do something with a couple of these tracks. When I joined the band, Manfred was fiddling around with “Blinded by the Light” and I never had heard Springsteen’s version until I went and saw him live in 1977 in Montreal. So Manfred just sang me the song and said this is how it goes. I didn’t want to listen to the original and be swayed by it in any way. So I never heard it at all, we just sat around a piano and Manfred said this is the way it goes. Then we worked it out with the band and the rest is history.” Ray Shasho: Did the band actually change some of the original lyrics to the song? Chris Thompson: Originally it was … ‘Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night’… and we replaced it with … ‘Wrapped up like a deuce, another runner in the night.’ (Note: the song lyric around the web states … ‘Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night’) I think one of the major reasons it was a hit as well is because nobody could understand the lyrics (All laughing). But when a record gets played and played and played it becomes a hit.” Ray Shasho: Of course Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had other hits as well like … “Davey’s On The Road Again,”“Runner,” and several other Springsteen penned tracks … “Spirit in The Night” and “For You.” Chris Thompson: ““For You”…with me singing it was on the German dance charts for about 132 weeks. A band called The Disco Boys did a dance version of it and is very-very good actually. I’ve been playing piano and voice version of that song for fifteen years. We mix it up and kind of do a disco version of it now and a lot of people love it.” Ray Shasho: Your biggest hit was co-penned with Andy Qunta (Icehouse), Keth Reid (Procol Harum), and Maggie Ryder called “You’re the Voice” and performed by John Farnham. Chris Thompson: “It continues to be a very good track for us. It’s found its way into all sorts of things like movies … and funny enough; the Australians use it almost like their national anthem. I remember I was in Australia when it was a hit. I was driving with John I think and I had the radio on and drove into a gas station to get some gas. “You’re the Voice” was being played and I could tell where it was being played on the song that it wasn’t what I was listening to on the radio. Then I went to the next gas station and it was also being played there, but at a different place as well. So it was being played on three different radio stations at the same time. It was insane. On You Tube there’s a great version of Coldplay doing “You’re the Voice” when they were in Australia … it’s really great.” Ray Shasho: A YouTube video that gets millions of hits is “Blinded by the Light” on The Midnight Special … the band performed flawlessly on the show. Chris Thompson: “The funny thing about The Midnight Special was the Eagles were on that night as well. It was at a time when the band was falling to pieces and they didn’t want to play with each other anymore. They kept stopping every thirty seconds and theirs was a prerecorded thing. Ours was done in one take but the Eagles kept doing it again. It became too embarrassing so they asked everybody to leave.” Ray Shasho: Chris, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be? Chris Thompson: “If I go back to when I was in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band …one of the greatest live bands in my opinion was Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer. At the time I would give my eye teeth to play with them. I was lucky enough to be on stage with The Doobie Brothers every night for nine months. That was pretty fantastic. I think as far as writing is concerned …if I could sit in a room with Elton John, Bernie Taupin and myself and written a couple of songs, I think that would have made me pretty happy.” “I went back to New Zealand one time and they asked me who I would really like to work with and I chose Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers and the Eagles. Those were the four people that I wanted to work with. I’ve worked with Ray Charles and the Doobies; I sat in the studio with Aretha while she was working, and never worked with the Eagles. But to have written with Elton John and Bernie Taupin or be in a band with Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer would be unbelievable, listening to that ‘Roadworks’ album… it’s just phenomenal.” Ray Shasho: Rick Derringer lives very close to where I live here in Bradenton. Chris Thompson: “You tell him hello from me, I did a lot of gigs with him. He was fantastic; he’s the only person I knew that used to dress down for a gig in the 70’s. He was such a dapper dresser, always perfectly dressed. When he came in he’d put on an old pair of jeans with a ripped knee, sneakers, and a T- shirt and go on and do the gig (All laughing).” Ray Shasho: Chris, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring. Chris Thompson: “My pleasure Ray, thank you!” Purchase Chris Thompson’s incredible new release ‘Toys & Dishes’ [Here] or amazon.com Very special thanks to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon PR Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at email@example.com Purchase Ray’s very special memoir called ‘Check the Gs’ -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business … You’ll LIVE IT! Also available for download on NOOK or KINDLE edition for JUST .99 CENTS at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com - Please support Ray by purchasing his book so he can continue to bring you quality classic rock music reporting.
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